Efforts Converging To Bolster Role of Arts Education

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Fearful that the arts are being lost in the school-reform movement's rush back to basics, government officials and arts groups are launching initiatives to make education in the arts a more important part of the curriculum at every level of schooling.

Among the developments:

The U.S. House of Representatives has called for a federal study on the status of arts education in the schools, to be undertaken by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the U.S. Department of Education.

The arts endowment is taking steps to broaden the focus of its artists-in-residence program, which now serves 3.6 million students and 76,000 teachers a year.

On the basis of a 50-state survey on arts-education policies--scheduled for release this month--the Council of Chief State School Officers' arts advisory committee has recommended the inclusion of fine arts in high-school graduation requirements and the statewide testing of students in the arts.

The Alliance for Arts Education, a national network of citizens, announced at its annual meeting this month plans to work with other national groups to draft a position statement on the central role of arts education.

Twenty-three arts, arts-education, and education organizations have adopted a three-point position statement drafted by the Music Educators National Conference in support of stronger arts-education programs.

Lawmakers' Proposal

As part of a bill reauthorizing the arts and humanities endowments, the House last week approved a provision that would mandate a study of the state of arts and humanities education "as currently taught in the public elementary and secondary schools in the United States." The study would also look at the current and future availability of qualified teachers in these fields.

The House bill states that students should receive "background and preparation in the arts and humanities" and directs the two endowments to fund projects that "will encourage public knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the arts."

The Senate version of the bill, approved earlier in the month, does not contain similar provisions. The differences will be ironed out in a conference committee.

Endowment Broadens Program

The arts endowment this month will issue proposed guidelines for bolstering arts education that will be discussed with state arts agencies and others over the next few months, according to Joe N. Prince, director of the artists-in-education program.

Actual changes would not occur until February, after the annual meeting of the National Council on the Arts, he said.

"In the past, most of our grants have gone to artist-residency activities in schools and communities," Mr. Prince said. "What we are anticipating, and talking with states about, is allowing the states an opportunity to broaden the residency category to include other kinds of arts-education activities."

A concept paper on the agency's shift in focus, drafted this past summer, suggested that it motivate schools to adopt and implement sequential, testable curricula in the arts, support better preservice and inservice training for arts educators, encourage state and local arts agencies to help make the arts a basic part of the curriculum, and stimulate the collection and dissemination of information about successful programs.

The current artists-in-education program, funded at $4.4 million this year, places artists in schools to work with students and teachers. State arts agencies match every dollar in federal funding with $3.50 to $4.00 in state and local funds, Mr. Prince said.

Mr. Prince said he did not anticipate substantial new funds for the program in fiscal 1987, despite the broadening of program goals.

"We see a gradual phasing-in of these new activities over a period of time," he said, adding that many of the school activities the endowment is proposing ultimately are the responsibility of state education departments and local school districts.

Report on Arts-Education

In its new report, the arts advisory committee of the Council of Chief State School Officers recommends that state education departments develop sequential, competency-based curricula in grades K-12 for all arts subjects, including dance, creative writing, music, theater, and the visual arts.

The report--titled "Arts, Education, and the States: A Survey of State Education Policies"--also advocates the inclusion of the fine arts in high-school-graduation requirements and the statewide testing of students in the arts.

William F. Pierce, executive director of the ccsso, noted that "very few would consider teaching the arts a primary purpose of education, and seldom would it make the lists of the public's educational objectives."

"Yet, irrespective of the purpose of education to which any one of us may subscribe," he added, "we all tend to agree that the arts will enhance the attainment of that purpose."

50-State Survey

During the spring of 1985, the ccsso distributed a questionnaire to education agencies in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and six other areas under U.S. jurisdiction. Fifty-five agencies responded.

The survey found that education departments "still tend to give most of their attention to the visual arts and music, and much less attention to dance and drama and creative writing," said Hilda L. Smith, the council's director of the arts and humanities.

In addition, respondents "overwhelmingly" cited the negative influence of the "back to basics" movement on the arts, particularly at the local level, she said.

State officials indicated, for example, that as local school districts have been pressured to increase standardized testing and remedial programming in basic skills, support for the arts has dwindled.

In addition, the survey results suggest that compared with the arts, subject areas such as vocational edu-el14lcation and foreign languages "are often viewed by parents and some educators as more practical for college or career preparation," the report noted.

The ccsso survey found that in the last five years, 20 states have changed their high-school-graduation requirements to include a course in the fine arts--up from only two states in 1979. In 10 of those states, however, students may choose between a course in the fine arts and one in vocational education or a foreign language.

In addition, although new graduation requirements have stimulated a general increase in mandated coursework across all subjects, some state officials reported that this worked against arts education.

In the wake of new requirements, "local districts have not generally adjusted schedules to accommodate electives," the study noted, "which sometimes prohibits interested students from enrolling in arts courses."

Statewide Testing

The survey found that only 10 states currently use standardized tests to measure students' artistic achievement on a statewide basis. Such testing is primarily limited to the visual arts and music. The study noted, however, that with more states pursuing testing programs,4there is "a definite trend toward standardized testing in the arts."

Among other findings:

Only 13 states reported that their state boards of education specified the arts within formal statements of educational goals.

Forty-two states mandate instruction in the arts in elementary or secondary schools. Elementary-level arts requirements are limited to visual art and music in most states. Twelve states require that dance or drama be offered at the secondary level.

Forty-two states provide teacher-certification in two or more arts subjects for grades K-12, and 26 states require specific hours or units in the arts for elementary-classroom certificates. Most states, however, do not know how many certified arts instructors and how many regular classroom teachers are actually teaching the arts.

At the state level, most education departments reported employing an arts specialist or allocating a portion of a generalist's time to arts education, but these people often spent less than a quarter of their time on the arts.

The ccsso committee recommended that the arts be made an "essential component of the education of all children at all levels." It also advocated incorporating the arts into other academic subjects, ensuring quali-fied arts instructors through the use of state certification policies, and collaborating with other community institutions to provide arts programs beyond the schools.

Arts Alliance Meets

At the Alliance for Arts Education's recent national conference in Washington, members of a number of arts and education groups discussed the development of a position statement supporting arts instruction in grades K-12. David R. Humphrey, director of the aae, said the alliance will work on that statement in the near future.

Richard D. Latham, chairman of the aae's New England region, said recent state surveys have found practitioners are calling for a "tightened curriculum" in the arts.

"They desire more leadership both at the district level and from their states" than they now receive, he said. "There has been a falling off of supervision. Art teachers are feeling pretty much left out on their own."

Art now commands less than 3 percent of weekly instructional time at the elementary-school level, noted Elliot Eisner, professor of education and art at Stanford University, in a report on arts education released in April by the Getty Center for Education in the Arts. Approximately 80 percent of all high-school students do not enroll in fine-arts courses, he noted, and fewer than 3 percent of all school districts require high-school students to study one of the fine arts to graduate.

Vol. 05, Issue 07

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